“4-3, mate” were the infamous words of Jake Clarke as he was carted away by security. He had both his arms held behind his back, but this didn’t stop Craig Bellamy marching over to him and striking Jake in the face. The FA didn’t deem this action worthy of any penalty, but Jake has been banned from Old Trafford by the club “indefinitely”.
It’s only when you watch the footage of that Michael Owen goal, and the celebrations that follow, that you start to notice finer details. First, Gary Neville sprinting on to the pitch himself, jumping up and thumping the air, before going out of picture. He is then later seen charging down the touchline towards the away fans.
Maybe Jake feels a tad aggrieved that he got nowhere near as far as Gary Neville before being hauled to the ground. But the pair of them reacted in the same way. For those few seconds, they didn’t know what they were doing, but the sheer joy and ecstasy of watching Owen stab the ball in to the back of the net after Bellamy had scored a last minute equaliser took total control. I, like thousands of other people in Old Trafford that day, had the bruises all up my shins as testament to my lack of control, but then, I sit in the second tier. But who knows what you would do in those few moments? I’m sure Neville and Jake wouldn’t have said they would sprinted on to the pitch! But that’s what they did, so totally consumed with happiness.
Which is why it will be sad to see Gary hang up his boots at the end of this season, because we have a captain who thinks like a fan, and that makes us one of the rarest teams in the country.
I completely understand why Neville is as unpopular as he is in this country. Aside from his strong feelings towards United, which certainly doesn’t help matters, there is something very irritating about him. He’s certainly not well liked with the staff at Carrington, although he started putting more effort in over the past year, in a bid to get a contract extension, according to them, which has made him even less popular.
But in terms of the type of player you want wearing your team’s armband, if you could pick all the attributes, Neville has almost all of them. For all the jeers Neville brings from away fans at times, all fans would want a captain like Neville. Whilst most club captains believe representing their country is more important than representing their clubs, and some, like Steve Gerrard and John Terry, even admit this, Neville has always said representing United means more to him that representing his country. Given that Neville is the 9th most capped player of all time for England, that is quite a compliment.
He lives and breathes United, he hates our fiercest rivals because he’s grown up hating them. He was never the most gifted player but got to where he was through sheer hard work and determination. He was desperate to make the grade at United so did everything in his power to make that possible.
However, for all the great qualities Neville has, the overriding problems are he is injured more than he’s fit, and quite simply, he’s not good enough anymore. Whilst few players gave a good account of themselves against Leeds, you were really expecting something from Neville. If he can’t do well against a Third Division side that we hate, then when is he going to play well?
This week a few papers claimed to have a story: Gary Neville will retire at the end of the season. As usual with the tabloids, there was no substance to it, no quotes, but their guess is probably a fairly good one. Ryan Giggs has just signed a contract extension, with his due to expire at the end of the season, whilst nothing has been said about Neville’s contract.
“There has not been a decision about Gary Neville,” Ferguson responded today. “Why make a decision about his future when we don’t need to? You don’t make decisions like that in the middle of the season. It is a load of nonsense.”
The club can make decisions about Giggs during the middle of the season because he’s playing really well, whilst in contrast, Neville hasn’t looked anything better than average in the few appearances he’s had this season.
Let’s be sensible about this. Neville has a lot to offer this club but surely not as a player any longer. So let’s get him a contract for a job on the coaching staff sorted and let Neville retire with some pride.